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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Mar > Mar 27

Methane Find On Mars May Be Sign Of Life

From: Dan Bright <ufo.nul>
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 15:22:53 -0000
Fwd Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 12:40:51 -0500
Subject: Methane Find On Mars May Be Sign Of Life

Source: The Independent


Methane find on Mars may be sign of life

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
27 March 2004

A strong signal of life on Mars has been detected by scientists
at the US National Aeronautics and Space Admin- istration (Nasa)
and the European Space Agency.

Each group has independently discovered tantalising evidence of
methane in the Martian atmosphere. Methane, a waste product of
living organisms on Earth, could also be a by-product of alien
microbes living under the surface of the Red Planet.

The detection of methane has been the holy grail of scientists
studying the Martian atmosphere, as its presence could provide
unequivocal proof that there is life beyond Earth.

Neither Nasa nor the European Space Agency (ESA) has publicly
announced the findings, but specialists who have seen the data
believe the discovery is genuine - although they are unsure what
it means in terms of confirming the presence of life.

The discovery comes weeks after Nasa and ESA announced new
findings relating to the presence of huge bodies of water on
Mars which could have supported life.

The European effort is led by Vittorio Formisano, of the
Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Science in Rome, who
operates the methane-detecting spectrometer on board the Mars
Express spacecraft orbiting the planet. "We can identify the
presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere and we've been
able to evaluate how much of it there would be," Professor
Formisano said. "Globally, if I average all the data I have, I
can find something of the order of 10 or 10.5 parts per billion.
It's detectable, but only if I average a lot of data."

Methane is destroyed by the intense ultraviolet radiation on
Mars because the gas has a relatively short photochemical
lifetime of about 300 years, so if it is present there must be
something producing it continually, Professor Formisano said.
"[Its presence] is significant and very important. If it is
present you need a source," he added.

The second group to detect signals of methane in the Martian
atmosphere is led by Michael Mumma of Nasa's Goddard Space
Flight Centre in Maryland, who used powerful spectroscopic
telescopes based on Earth.

This team is even believed to have detected variations in the
concentrations of methane, with a peak coming from the ancient
Martian seabed of Meridiani Planum, which is being explored by a
Nasa rover.

This could indicate a subterranean source of methane which is
pumping out the gas, either due to some residual geological
activity or because of the presence of living organisms
producing it as a waste gas.

Asked whether the continual production of methane is strong
evidence of a biological origin of the gas, Dr Mumma said: "I
think it is, myself personally."

He added: "It's difficult to imagine that primordial methane
[from geological activity] would continue outgassing for four
billion years [the age of Mars]. This looks very intriguing."

Both teams of scientists are now busy validating their results
before their respective organisations are prepared to go public
on the implications.

Dan Bright

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